Todd McKinley was a 2018 Republican Candidate for Congress in TN-01, he's a retired Army Paratrooper, Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge, and Presidential Service Badge recipient. He’s served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as well 6 ½ years at the White House Communications Agency & White House Military Office. He’s served as an Advance Representative for the Trump Administration, and as an Advance Representative for the 2020 Trump Campaign. Follow Todd: ; ; ; ;

If you’re like me, you don’t want to see Tennessee become a “purple state,” which leads to it becoming a “blue state,” then it’s time to get involved politically, especially at the local level. To ensure Tennessee remains a “red state,” it’s going to take everyone getting involved in local Republican and conservative clubs, as well as your county Republican party. I say this now, because in recent years, Democrats have been working to recruit and register likely Democrat voters in Tennessee and have only ramped up their efforts since 2018 and especially since 2020. An immediate rise in active Republican and conservative numbers will be able to counter Democrat short-term gains but to counter their long-term strategy it will take a long-term plan of our own.

The “Big Tent”

A few simple things if done right, can go a long way in helping keep Tennessee a red state. To do this, we need to significantly increase the number of active Republicans, not just by adding a few voters, but by recruiting people to volunteer to work for campaigns, which includes everything from knocking on doors, fundraising, phone banking, social media work, and essentially helping to spread the word about what the party stands for, as well as our candidates. I believe we can create a model for other states to emulate, which will go a long way in countering the increase in newly minted Democrat voters and counter the influx of Democrats who are relocating to the Volunteer state.

What I’m suggesting isn’t to just reach out to current and potential voters every two to four years. Instead, we need to reach out to everyone from every generation and walk of life, to let them know they’re welcome. We especially need to reach out to younger generations, minorities, and those who’ve never been approached and let them know they’re welcome within the party. For the party to remain relevant in statewide elections, we need to ensure we live up to the party nickname, the “big tent party.” We can no longer afford to write off large blocks of voters, much like how Republicans have in recent decades. This flippant attitude has only ensured that millions of Americans and thousands of Tennesseans have become life-long Democrats. With many Republicans aging and others passing away, we need to do a far greater job at recruiting individuals to not only fill the void but who’ll essentially serve as brand ambassadors.

Think about it, we’ve seen generations of voters being ceded to the Democrats, this must stop, if not, then the outcomes will eventually prove dire for Tennessee. If Democrats can succeed in flipping Tennessee, then there’s really no state that’s safe. Before you say, that’s never going to happen, then you should remember that not too long ago, Democrats had the same type of majorities in the state as Republicans do now.

A Blue State Through Activism

Like other states that were once safely Republican, Tennessee in some ways is slowly showing signs of becoming a blue state. You may say, the numbers overall don’t support this, but an entire state isn’t flipped by one party winning a single election, it’s flipped by winning the small elections and building on those successes. If we allow these minor trends to continue, then the state will become a purple state, then shortly afterward a blue state, especially if we don’t set ourselves up to defy this possibility now.

You may be asking why I’m saying that Tennessee is slowly becoming a blue state. For one, Democrats were able to flip a state Senate seat in 2020, which was the first time since 2006, this solidified their hold on the entire Nashville area. Also, voter registration was up going into the 2020 elections, an election that saw 1.1 million Tennessee Democrats vote for Joe Biden, which was a 31% increase from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 numbers. I get it, those numbers can be attributed to several factors, plus, I understand that President Trump’s numbers went up as well, but Democrats are increasingly becoming more competitive. Additionally, if you’ve read any number of publications lately discussing the thousands of people moving from blue states into Tennessee, then you should understand that far too often they bring their voting habits with them. This is what’s happening, or has happened to some degree in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia to name a few.

For now, in Tennessee, Democrats haven’t been able to flip any state House seats, but in 2018, Democrats flipped 12 state House seats in Texas, due in large part to Democrat voter registration drives, their efforts to reach out to younger generations, and minorities, as well as the influx of tens of thousands of Democrat voters. Also, Senator Ted Cruz had a close election to an oddball Democrat named Robert “Betto” O’Rourke in 2018. Mind you, Texas is a large state, but, Tennessee and Texas have often been compared to one another, especially when it comes to our politics. Texas supported the Democrat party for generations, as did Tennessee, at about the time Texas was becoming reliably a Republican state, so to was Tennessee. Now it seems that Texas is likely a purple state, bordering on becoming a blue one. If this can happen in Texas in a relatively short time, then Tennessee could very much be in play soon.

A Blue State Through Relocation

As more Democrats move into a state, they elect increasingly more radical Democrats at all levels. They often start running their candidates under the radar, especially in states like Tennessee that hold local nonpartisan elections, which has allowed Democrats to win elections in stealth mode for years. In fact, in recent elections alone, they’ve been successful in electing their candidates to the Sullivan County Board of Education, as well as elections in Kingsport and Bristol.

It’s not hard to see as the number of Democrats grow in places like Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, that they’ll soon have enough voters to win statewide elections. This increase in voters will also mean that they’ll be able to win more state house and state senate seats, as well as being able to flip a couple of our Congressional seats. After all, ideological Democrats will move into areas where they feel their votes can have an effect, even if it means a longer commute.

Note: The reason I only mention Sullivan County, is due to the fact it’s my home county, and Kingsport is my home city. Both Kingsport and Bristol are within Sullivan County, except a small portion of Kingsport that falls within Hawkins County due to city annexation efforts several years ago.

A Neighboring County

Democrats have made a lot of headway in neighboring Washington County, a county tucked in the middle of Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District, which is one of the safest Republican seats in the country, a county that saw Joe Biden receive 5,614 more votes than Hillary Clinton. Again, this can be attributed to many factors, but it’s likely a trend that’s not going to change, due in large part to Johnson City, which is home to East Tennessee State University, becoming more like nearby Ashville, NC. This is also happening on a smaller scale to Bristol, TN which again is in my home county.

That’s why it’s important to be ready to counter the voting habits of those who would wish to move into our state. I’m not saying we do anything radical and try to keep anyone out, but we need to remember why there’s such a magnet in Tennessee in the first place and it’s because we’ve been solidly electing Republicans for a couple of decades now, and this isn’t the time to reverse course.

By mobilizing, sticking to facts, being willing to go into communities Republicans have avoided in the past, having tough conversations, and branching out from the business as usual model employed every election cycle and in the intervening years, it’s possible to bring out hundreds of thousands of voters. This effort may also be able to convert some of the recent Democrat transplants as well.

I could go on, but for now, I’ll leave you with a few simple things every Republican organization could do. These ideas can be used as a jumping-off point, they could be expanded on and tailored to suit the needs of a given part of the state. However, the overall goals should be to sheer up our base, grow the number of Republican activists, and of course the number of Republican voters overall, all together it will help keep Tennessee a red state.

Simple Ideas

  • Increase overall attendance at regular county Republican Party events.
  • Expand the number of regular Republican Party events at the county level.
  • Hold regular informal meetings on either a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis to serve as membership drives, as well as a relaxed social event. (When people can meet with their elected representatives in an informal and non-confrontational setting, it can have a major positive effect, even when they disagree with one another on many things.)
  • Substantially increase the membership in every type of Republican club. This includes Teenage Republicans, College Republicans, Young Republicans, Republican Women, and other Non-federated Republican clubs.
  • Establish Teenage Republican clubs at every high school (where allowed).
  • Establish Young Republican chapters in all 95 counties, as well as other clubs where none exist.
  • Encourage clubs to support one another, especially during community projects and/or membership drives. Avoid rivalries based on individual egos and avoid dividing into factions, this keeps people away and from renewing memberships and/or joining in the first place. As news of this childishness gets out, it only hurts the party overall and can affect voting.
  • Conduct a reasonable amount of phone banking annually, where the goal is to raise awareness of issues and to encourage attendance to party events.
  • Utilize social media in a smart way, engage with people in a meaningful manner, don’t just post memes, especially ones that only attack Democrats or certain politicians. Instead post positive stories, also add some well-thought-out commentary to go along with it, and occasionally pay to boost a post.
  • Advertise with local media outlets, if possible, run an occasional commercial, especially before a major event such as a Reagan Day or Lincoln Day Dinners Etc.
  • Well-placed literature never hurts.
  • Free “swag” can go a long way, plus its free advertisement. Ever been on a treadmill or exercise bike and read the back of the shirt of the person in front of you? Think about it!

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